Dystopia and Donald Trump: How Many New Adolf Hitler Clones Lurk in the Future of Realistic Science Fiction?

You’ve set about penning your polemical dystopian Y.A. masterpiece set in alt-2017. The main protagonist is probably a woman, but could also be a man. She may be transgender or a genetic female. She is probably Latina, but could be Black, Asian or biracial.

The head villain, cast as the ideological opposite of the main protagonist, is a thoroughly original, fictional monstrosity: an egomaniacal tyrant whose skin is tinted radioactive orange and hair is a garish fake yellow, accompanied by his gorgeously dim-witted mail-order bride. Lesser villains include a vice president who tacitly supports the systematic, sadistic psychological torture of LGBT children ¹, and a trashy motormouthed ex-beauty queen henchwoman with extensive familial reality TV credentials.

Beware Clichés and Caricatures

There’s only one problem with the evil characters sketched above: despite an element of truth, they’re obvious caricatures. Caricatures can be amusing at first, but their apparent lack of depth can quickly wear thin.

It may be tempting to imitate Hollywood with a high-concept plot along the lines of “The Future Versus Adolf Hitler” ² or “Billionaire President Versus The People”.

Donald Trump may be a hyper-narcissistic, cocaine-addicted buffoon, but he’s nothing next to Adolf Hitler. Hitler was politically smarter and more popular with the German people, among other key distinctions.

Here’s a bit of basic research on historical differences between the rise of Hitler and the rise of Trump, to help you avoid a few pitfalls from the start in writing your next story.

Trump Has the Sniffles — Hitler Was The Real High-Roller

To start, Hitler was more creative in his choice of recreational drugs. By the end of World War II, Hitler injected a daily stream of hardcore pharmaceuticals administered by his faithful doctor, Theodor Morell³:

– Pervitin (methamphetamine)
– Eukodal (oxycodone)
– high grade cocaine

…among others.

Although Donald Trump may simply have a persistently runny nose, his alleged cocaine habit (and unhinged 3 a.m. Twitter diatribe tendency ) pales by the sight of Hitler’s needle-punctured, collapsing veins and erratic junkie-in-withdrawals behavior during his last days in the Führerbunker.

Trump Lost the Popularity Contest, Hitler Won The Reality Show

Adolf Hitler had far more popular support at the start of his reign in 1934 than Donald Trump has in 2016. Ironically, Hitler’s popularity grew more to the level of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin than Trump. It’s also noteworthy that many Germans seemed to support Hitler himself more than the Nazi party ¹⁴, whereas the Republican Party in general is hated far less than Donald Trump.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton indisputably won the popular vote ¹⁵ to become 45th president of the United States of America.

Trump lost the popular vote, instead obtaining the position of president through the electoral college. In other words, Donald Trump is a failed populist before his time in office even begins. Trump may inspire Hitler-level fawning adoration in some of his supporters, but in no way can he legitimately claim to be the American people’s president.

Is the 2017 American Economy Comparable to Hitler’s Germany?

The socioeconomic environment that precipitated Hitler’s rise was far more dire than modern-day America . In 1933, the German people were suffering catastrophically due to:

– crippling financial reparations demanded by the treaty of Versailles after World War I ;

– the aftermath of the Great Depression of 1929 and disastrous efforts by a pre-Hitler government to reverse the damage.

In July 1930 Chancellor Brüning cut government expenditure, wages and unemployment pay – the worst thing to do during a depression.

How does that set of events compare to the modern day and possible future?

In 2016, the efforts of President Obama’s government — to repair the damage done during President Bush’s Great Recession of 2007 — have failed to completely restore the economy . This is why many people below retirement age feel trapped in financial uncertainty.

American wages are still nearly stagnant (this is a corporate capitalist problem, not a presidential problem). Although unemployment has fallen, personal debt is rising and employment increasingly centers on low-wage service industry jobs ¹⁰.

Lower-wage industries accounted for 22% of recession job losses, but are responsible for 44% of the hiring in the recovery.

High-wage jobs accounted for 41% of job losses but have only grown 30% since the recession, and mid-wage jobs made up 37% of job losses but only 26% of recent employment growth. That means there are almost two million fewer high- and mid-wage jobs than there were before the 2008 collapse, according to the report.

The economic situation in the United States circa 2017 isn’t anywhere near that of 1934 Germany. The Great Recession of 2008 was caused by financial deregulation rather than world war. Deregulation enabled lenders to offer housing loans to those who couldn’t afford them (“subprime” loans ¹¹). Those loans were reconstituted into “good” financial instruments that were actually junk (“securitization”), leading to a housing bubble that soon popped and destroyed the American economy ¹²:

After the Asian financial crisis in 1997, investors were looking for safe havens to park their money. What they wanted were AAA-rated bonds. What they got were mortgage-backed securities that were rated AAA but turned out to be junk. As we all now know—but most of us didn’t know at the time—Wall Street firms in the early 2000s began slicing and dicing and then reassembling mortgage debt into more and more exotic and risky mortgage-backed securities in ways that made them look risk-free.

Now imagine what might happen during the presidency of a real estate mogul billionaire — who was cheering for the housing crisis so that he could make easy money¹³?

“I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said in a 2006 audiobook from Trump University, answering a question about “gloomy predictions that the real estate market is heading for a spectacular crash.”

“If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money,” Trump said in the 2006 audio book, “How to Build a Fortune.”

The United States has already had a “pro-business” president (George W. Bush) whose deregulatory policies led directly to a massive recession that hasn’t ended yet. Now the U.S. has somehow elected a real estate speculator who cheered for the failure of the American housing market.

In relation to the economy, Trump isn’t Hitler. Trump is an opportunistic vulture asked to safeguard and nurture America’s already-ailing fiscal health. Still, the U.S. isn’t in the realm of 1934 Germany yet. If you want to write a dystopian plotline, aim for the socioeconomic landscape post-2020, after the new despot has grabbed the American consumer by the pocketbook and had his way with her.

War-Mongers at the Gates of Power?

The German people largely approved of Hitler’s use of war to annex territory. Indeed, much of the German peoples’ support for Hitler arose because of his regime’s military success ¹⁴.

After the abject failure ¹⁶ of George W. Bush’s oil-seeking adventurism in Iraq ¹⁷ based on lies — no, the lesser sin of “misinformation” — about “weapons of mass destruction” ¹⁸, most Americans abhor the idea of prolonged ground war ¹⁹.

The current worldwide drone and special operations deployments began precisely because “boots on the ground” are extremely unpopular in the prevailing American sentiment. Trump simply cannot wage war wholesale while waving a United States flag and crowing on about “making America great again”, the way that Adolf Hitler did for Germany in the years leading up to Word War II. George W. Bush already tried that game with disastrous results that led directly to the rise of ISIS. In the current climate, the American people would never commit long-term support to flattening Iran or further maiming the already-crippled North Korea.

If your sci-fi plot requires large-scale global war, focus on the details of a “what if…” scenario that renders conflict as inevitable — not as the unilateral decision of Dictator Trump. Of course, that’s quite likely what Trump himself would do.

Mass Surveillance

We find our hero seeking truth. She’s skulking around the city, smoothly avoiding security cameras and narrowly escaping capture by the Gestapo of the Future. And of course she’s some kind of hacker, because hackers are cool and computers are magical MacGuffins that can do anything.

How close could Trump’s surveillance machine match that of Adolf Hitler ²⁰?

Unfortunately, from Donald Rumsfeld to President Obama, civil liberties and information privacy have been eroded continuously. ²¹

Guantanamo Bay is still operational. Drone wars are ongoing. Special operators slit throats of third-world adversaries in the dark. FBI informants spy on mosques and activists. The NSA is vast and practically unaccountable. Trump advocates increased deportations and endorses torture far beyond waterboarding.

The only thing preventing President Obama from ruling with an iron fist was the President himself. Now Americans have Trump, who promises no similar restraint.

In terms of surveillance, Trump certainly has the tools to be a dream in the remotest fantasies of Hitler. Your best fodder for realistic near-future science fiction may begin here — just be sure to get the details right. People need ongoing reminders that the extent of what’s possible is just as mind-bending as anything imagined by Philip K. Dick.

Near-Future Civil Strife

A great backdrop for dystopian fiction is the image of protestors marching in the streets, throwing Molotov cocktails at robotically faceless oppressors and demanding the end of an evil regime.

Hitler’s platform, as you’ve read above, pertained to the outcome of World War I and the Great Depression.

Today’s populism tends to focus on jobs, but often leaves out important details. Those details can help your story feel more real.

Who took all the jobs? Was it “Obama”, the machines or “the Mexicans”?

The Second Machine Age

President Obama didn’t “steal” American jobs that Trump can magnanimously “give back” to the people ²². Manufacturing jobs are gone due to globalisation ²³ and the automation of factories ²⁴. Working-class occupational categories will continue to disappear. None of this has anything to do with who happens to be president of the United States of America.

Either the U.S. keeps up with global trends — that result in increased productivity and skyrocketing income inequality, the end of social mobility, etc. — or the entire national economy will quickly fall behind as business moves overseas.

Anyone who has graduated beyond a high-school mentality knows that it would be ludicrous to build an impossibly giant wall to keep out the imaginary hordes of Mexican rapists and job-stealing taco vendors. The first question for working-class people is “who’s to blame?

“If you’re under economic stress and you can’t provide for your family, the easiest answer is to find someone to blame,” said Dr. Griffith. “Mexicans, illegal immigrants, Obama.” ²³

The sad part about those who voted for Trump is that many of them are legitimately afraid that their simple way of life is under threat. It’s true: capitalism sees labor as a cost and strives to eliminate it whenever possible. ²⁵

“You don’t have to train machines,” Mr. Mishek observes.

“If you’re doing something that can be written down in a programmatic, algorithmic manner, you’re going to be substituted for quickly,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard.

That’s the corporate capitalist way. That doctrine has usurped and supplanted any regard for workers that existed before the rise of Walmart, Starbucks, Google, Amazon, Apple and Uber. Today’s middle class is sliding to become working class; the working class faces a descent into poverty. Those who are poor face debt and homelessness. The only thing more amazing than the phenomenon itself is that those a step higher on the ladder sneer at the survivors one step below, thereby making room for themselves to fall and be spat upon when their turn comes. Positive thinking is little more than a thinly veiled prayer that misfortune will “never happen to me”, enacted by controlling an uncertain universe through thought alone. That way, if you fail, it’s all your fault. Society is for winners, and the lower 99% are on their own.

Dystopia is a great choice for fiction writing in terms of realism right now. The main challenge is to tell people — especially young people — fresh stories that we aren’t already living day-to-day.

Blame the Mexicans…?

Working-class Trump supporters express legitimate concerns about their economic status and social well-being. The only part they consistently get wrong is the idea that their enemies are other working-class people who happen to have a different skin color or country of origin. Even if you could get rid of the Mexicans, have police murder all the working-age black men and women, and build empty factories devoid of all automation, the rest of the world (translation: China ²⁶) will simply pick up the slack. To fight globalisation by using racial and gendered hatred as an excuse for xenophobic protectionism/isolationism will only hasten the inevitable.

The socioeconomic landscape is changing. Within a generation, the blatant racism and sexism of Donald Trump will become a punchline about the backward ways of a long-gone era in the United States.

After Hitler, After Trump

When you write your dystopian tour de force, have a laugh by brainstorming with a fictional graphic that Trump tried in vain to pass off as fact, published by the nonexistent “San Francisco Crime Statistics Bureau.” ²⁷ Donald Trump has done a brilliant job of dumbing-down his own public persona in order to the gain the favor of frightened, vulnerable, gullible, racist voters.

When Trump inevitably fails to materialize new working-class jobs and “make America great again”, the national temperament will probably swing just as extremely to the left in 2020 as it did to the right four years prior. The country will still exist (provided humanity avoids Armageddon). Will the United States adapt to the world’s tempo or become increasingly obsolete? This is a question of trajectory that the American electoral college may have already set in motion on November 9th, 2016.

Donald J. Trump may be an unnaturally orange-faced buffoon but, similar to Adolf Hitler, he can also be quite shrewd, socially if not politically. Make sure that your Trump-based characters don’t fall too far into caricature, as tempting as the many opportunities certainly are.

Now you have a set of real-life facts to guide the construction of your Trump/Hitler fiction stories for the next four years of dystopian oddity on Spaceship Earth. Hopefully a few of those hyper-realistic Y.A. yarns have happy endings, or at the very least, open-ended and ambiguous ones.

P.S. You could also take a totally different approach, and imagine a world in which Bernie Sanders won the presidency. Until his successor emerges in 2020, you’ll have to divine that scenario for yourself. Enjoy. ;)

Learn More

1. Newsom, Gavin. (20 Jul 2016). Mike Pence—Conversion Therapy True Believer—Adds More Hate to Donald Trump’s GOP Fire. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/20/mike-pence-conversion-therapy-true-believes-up-the-hate-for-donald-trump-s-gop.html.

2. Sandberg, David. (2015 May 28). KUNG FURY Official Movie [HD]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bS5P_LAqiVg.

3. Cooke, Rachel. (2016 Sep 25). High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/sep/25/blitzed-norman-ohler-adolf-hitler-nazi-drug-abuse-interview.

4. Diamond, Jeremy. (1 Oct 2016). Donald Trump quintuples down. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/30/politics/trump-overnight-media-tweets/index.html.

5. Parfitt, Tom. (27 Nov 2014). Seven reasons to explain Vladimir Putin’s popularity cult. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/vladimir-putin/11257362/Seven-reasons-to-explain-Vladimir-Putins-popularity-cult.html.

6. Hitler’s rise to power. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/mwh/germany/hitlerpowerrev_print.shtml.

7. Lang, Olivia. (2 Oct 2010). Why has Germany taken so long to pay off its WWI debt? Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-11442892.

8. Long, Heather. (6 Feb 2016). Why doesn’t 4.9% unemployment feel great? Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2016/02/06/news/economy/obama-us-jobs/index.html.

9. Frizell, Sam. (19 Feb 2014). Americans Are Taking on Debt at Scary High Rates. Retrieved from http://time.com/8740/federal-reserve-debt-bankrate-consumers-credit-card/.

10. Alter, Charlotte. (28 Apr 2014). Report: Low-Pay Jobs Replace High-Pay Jobs Since Recession. Retrieved from http://time.com/79061/report-low-pay-jobs-replace-high-pay-jobs-since-recession/.

11. Grossman, Richard S. (14 Oct 2013). Greed destroyed us all: George W. Bush and the real story of the Great Recession. Retrieved from http://www.salon.com/2013/10/14/greed_destroyed_us_all_george_w_bush_and_the_real_story_of_the_great_recession/.

12. Boushey, Heather. (21 May 2014). It Wasn’t Household Debt That Caused the Great Recession. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/house-of-debt/371282/.

13. Diamond, Jeremy. (20 May 2016). Donald Trump in 2006: I ‘sort of hope’ real estate market tanks. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/19/politics/donald-trump-2006-hopes-real-estate-market-crashes/.

14. Kershaw, Ian. (30 Jan 2008). How Hitler Won Over the German People. Retrieved from http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/the-fuehrer-myth-how-hitler-won-over-the-german-people-a-531909.html.

15. 12 Nov 2016. Live Presidential Forecast. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/elections/forecast/president.

16. Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus. (23 Jun 2014). Most Americans say Iraq war wasn’t worth the costs: Poll. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/most-americans-say-iraq-war-wasnt-worth-the-costs-poll/.

17. Sisi Wei, Jeremy Bowers and Wilson Andrews. 4486 U.S. service members have died in Iraq. Retrieved from http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/theaters/iraq/.

18. Schwarz, Jon. (10 Apr 2015). Twelve Years Later, US Media Still Can’t Get Iraqi WMD Story Right. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2015/04/10/twelve-years-later-u-s-media-still-cant-get-iraqi-wmd-story-right/.

19. Drake, Bruce. (12 Jun 2014). More Americans say U.S. failed to achieve its goals in Iraq. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/06/12/more-americans-say-us-failed-to-achieve-its-goals-in-iraq/.

20. Greenslade, Roy. (4 Dec 2013). How Hitler suspended the right to mail and telephone privacy. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2013/dec/04/surveillance-adolf-hitler.

21. Alex Emmons. (11 Nov 2016). Commander-In-Chief Donald Trump Will Have Terrifying Powers. Thanks, Obama. Retrieved from https://theintercept.com/2016/11/11/commander-in-chief-donald-trump-will-have-terrifying-powers-thanks-obama/.

22. Diamond, Jeremy. (28 Jun 2016). Trump slams globalization, promises to upend economic status quo. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/28/politics/donald-trump-speech-pennsylvania-economy/index.html.

23. Nelson D. Schwartz and Quoctrung Bui. (25 Apr 2016). Where Jobs Are Squeezed by Chinese Trade, Voters Seek Extremes. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/26/business/economy/where-jobs-are-squeezed-by-chinese-trade-voters-seek-extremes.html.

24. Rotman, David. (12 Jun 2013). How Technology Is Destroying Jobs. Retrieved from https://www.technologyreview.com/s/515926/how-technology-is-destroying-jobs/.

25. Rampell, Catherine. (9 Jun 2011). Companies Spend on Equipment, Not Workers. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/10/business/10capital.html.

26. Smith, Noah. (26 Jan 2016). Free Trade With China Wasn’t Such a Great Idea for the U.S. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-01-26/free-trade-with-china-wasn-t-such-a-great-idea.

27. Farley, Robert. (23 Nov 2015). Trump Retweets Bogus Crime Graphic. Retrieved from http://www.factcheck.org/2015/11/trump-retweets-bogus-crime-graphic/.


Science Fiction as the Intersection of Technology, Sex and Art

Where does AltSciFi come from? Who are we? What are we about?

These questions are continually refined as the composition of our membership changes over time.

AltSciFi presently operates on three axes:

Tech, art, and sex.

* The term “sexies” is a neologism. It means: people of a non-conforming sexual orientation, including gay, lesbian, and alternative lifestyle practitioners. Consensual sex is an interpersonally creative act between one, two or more people, not bound by arbitrary social codes, mores, imperatives or opprobrium. Asexual, transhuman and posthuman identities that appreciate human sexuality are also welcome here.

1. Techies who love art and sex;
2. Artsies who love tech and sex;
3. Sexies* who love tech and art.

Art-loving techies are our primary audience, although only because they are most intimately connected to technology. Who would love sci-fi more than people who are creating the future?

Cryptography and information/network security are the two aspects of tech that will have the greatest basic impact on our global civilization in decades to come. Hence, we focus there as a foundation for building plausible, science-based “hard sci-fi” ideas. The freedom of the individual and our collective survival depend on the balance of secrecy, privacy, and publicly accessible information.

The Race and Politics of AltSciFi

We are, however, apolitical and non-racial.

“But that’s impossible!”, you might say. “We all have a race, and any citizen lives in a political environment. We all have politics of some kind; if you pay taxes to a central government, you’re supporting its political system, too.”

Here’s what apolitical and non-racial means in this context:

Politics are essentially a form of theater for the average citizen. Real politics consists of evaluating issues, making up your own mind, and voting for candidates who align with your perspective. All the bluster and arguments that take place online are little more than gossip for those who are bored and enjoy wasting time with endless debates.

Race is a communally believed fiction; there is no scientific basis for dividing humans into “races”. Opinions about race tend to change glacially, in tandem with socially acceptable beliefs about art, technology and sex (i.e. culture). Simply pointing out the fictional nature of race is enough. For our purposes, the rest is little more than political chatter that often encodes and hides socioeconomic influences and biases.

Gender is a fiction as well; it is a set of acculturated behaviors, not biological facts. The existence of transgender and transsexual people further provides evidence for this truth. Gender is considered (by some) to be more fluid than race, hence it offers a glimpse into the malleable nature of human identity.

Race may one day be recognized as changeable (yet for some people, intrinsic) as gender. For now, science fiction can address both race and gender directly or through metaphors of the “alien” and the “Other” — creatures who are foreign, yet nonetheless essentially human.

Both Human and Alien: Beauty and Sex in Science Fiction

Technology and art are obvious, but why is sex so important in the AltSciFi formulation of sci-fi?

Sex matters because it is at once fundamental to our existence as animals, and at the same time the source of endless doubts and controversies. A naive and curious space alien might ask: What makes a man? What makes a woman? Is it not strange that in some cultures, women jealously guard their breasts as if nipples have magical powers? Isn’t it fascinating that in some parts of the world, there are more than two recognized genders? At a time when genetically perfect babies can be born in laboratories, how does sex, gender and sexuality change? What happens when a person born with one set of genitalia can decide to undergo hormonal treatments and gender reassignment surgery?

Deviancy, Fantasy and Consensuality

It’s also worthy of note that most people have engaged in, or at least fantasized about, sexual activities that they dare not share with others for fear of shame or ostracism. Fictional characters and scenarios — not only in romance novels or erotic stories — provide an ideal medium to explore such issues in creative ways.

All consensual sex is “normal” as far as all involved parties agree that their activities are based on shared desires. Perversion begins in minds that would censor the prerogative of others to safely enjoy themselves in a private space. Fiction that points up such a dissonance between (morally) right and (socially) “proper” uncovers a diverse menu of sci-fi story possibilities.

Beauty, Style, Biology and Technology

What is beauty in a world of fluid sexual and gender identity?

These are all questions that are ripe for a genre like science fiction to play with and expand upon. Sexuality obsesses, repulses, delights and drives us. Technology of various kinds is opening up avenues for personal beauty, fashion, style and expression in ways that were both socially and physiologically unheard of only a few decades ago. Imagining possible and plausible futures requires a comprehensive vision that includes gender, sex and sexuality.

You might say that AltSciFi exists at the heart of a Venn diagram of sorts: tech, art, and sex.

It’s a great place to be, and offers a uniquely open perspective to the varieties of human experience. If we can see even a few years into one of many futures, we may then able to shine a beam or two back onto who we are right now, and who we want to be. Insight into ourselves, after all, is what real science fiction is all about.

Clickbait Journalism, Gender in Video Games, and a New Direction for Independent Science Fiction in All Media

Rest assured: the topic of this article is decidedly not “ethics in gamer journalism.” The topic here may seem to center on video games when it is, quite frankly, all about the money.

The Backlash Was Only The Beginning

On September 1st, 2015, technologist Brianna Wu teamed with writer Ellen McGrody to write a factually inaccurate, morally wrong-headed article.

The article was factually incorrect for reasons elaborated in Part One of this two-part series.

It also twisted a gender rights issue — transgender representation in videogames.
The effect was to stir empty controversy, generating cheap click-bait for their host, themarysue.com.

Predictably, a strong backlash arose among many readers who voiced their disgust both on themarysue.com website and on Twitter.

That was only the beginning, however. Brianna Wu further impugned her own credibility, responding to criticism by tweeting personal attacks against her detractors rather than addressing the factual inaccuracies in her article:

“The extreme anger and aggressive denial of my piece about the evidence #Samus is transgender shows how much transphobia is in gamer culture.”

In some cases, it’s not denial. It’s that the article was incorrect and wrong. Cherrypicking convenient facts and ignoring disconfirming evidence has nothing to do with “gamer culture”, and everything do to with manipulation of data to serve an agenda. Note also how all who disagree are automatically labeled as “extreme”, “angry”, or “aggressive”, and as denying some kind of nonexistent “truth” that exists only in Brianna Wu’s mind.

“Why does this upset people so much? Well, that answer is simple. You hate transgender people, and can’t imagine a gaming icon as one.”

No, the answer is different, yet equally simple: some people dislike being manipulated for the sake of pseudo-civil rights clickbait. There are real issues to write about in the gender rights arena. Why waste time digging up twenty year-old quotes from video games and twisting them for the sake of a bogus feel-good essay?

The facts compiled in Part One of this series were the result of a less than twenty-minute investigation via search engine DuckDuckGo.

“I need you to understand, your unconscious bias against transgender people is killing them. It killed my friend Evelyn, who was only 19.”

A shoddy article about a videogame character has nothing to do with the unfortunate death of anyone’s real-life friends. Aside from the ludicrous assertion that “unconscious biases” can kill people, claiming such deadly “bias” on the part of people you’ve never met is ridiculous mass armchair psychoanalysis-at-a-distance.

“I’m going to make all the difference I can, while I can. Sadly, enduring endless barrage of personal attacks is part of changing the world.”

The unmistakably hubris-riddled, self-obsessive grandiosity of this tweet says more than any other one could have done on its own.

Question: How did such a shoddy, manipulative article end up published in the first place?
Answer: Because no one was paying for anything better.

This two-part series of AltSciFi articles is not a “hit piece” or attempt at character assassination against Brianna Wu or Ellen McGrody.

In spite of their perhaps-virtuous motives, Wu and McGrody wrote and promoted an article whose premise was misleading and facts were badly cherrypicked. The ultimate responsibility for such “clickbait journalism”, however, rests entirely on the shoulders of publications that give space to such poorly chosen prose.

Regardless of the stated subject or domain, any website powered by advertising is also driven by baiting users to click on advertisements. This inevitably leads down the bottomless sewer drain of searching for “high-concept” articles that will grab random readers by the eyeballs and keep them looking for long enough to follow an ad.

Mechanics of the “Free” Clickbait Internet Economy

The economics of clickbaiting are calculated by the thousands: thousands of people need to view a click-driven website before an appreciable number will “convert” into buyers.

What does this mean?

It means that if a site is driven by clicks, it’s also essentially and inevitably the Web version of a trashy tabloid magazine. The fundamental business model is exactly the same. A tabloid strives to shock with lurid headlines and scandalous stories; advertising-driven websites are financially sustained by the same set of economic pressures. At no point in time is quality the top priority.

At worst, advertisers and websites (and even ISPs) collect your personal browsing data, build behavioral profiles of users, and sell it to the highest bidder.

Hence, we end up with fake flag-waving by writers like Wu and McGrody — in this case, spinning a twenty-year-old transphobic comment into a false “victory” for transgender gamers. Even if the article isn’t worth the pixels it’s printed on, a high viewer count makes it a “winner”.

Wu and McGrody may not have set out to manipulate the emotions and hopes of their audience. Their intentions may have been pure. The publication for which they wrote, however, did nothing to prevent their tabloid-worthy article from being printed on its pages. Everyone involved simply had too much to gain and too little to lose.

How can clickbait journalism and blatantly exploitative gender-baiting be prevented?

If a publication’s readers aren’t financially invested in the works produced, there is no way to measure the value of those works aside from “more, more and more”. More pageviews, more clicks, more ads.

This leads to the slippery slope of baiting readers with tabloid-style “journalism”. If your work is based on enticing a multitude of random eyeballs, touchscreen taps and mouse clicks, the content of the work becomes essentially irrelevant.

By contrast, if the work is measured by readers’ sacrifice of their own funds for it, the measurement is both immediate and clear at all times. Uphold your standards of quality, or quickly see revenues drop.

AltSciFi aims to solve this problem in one (or more) of the following three ways:

1. Use a subscription model.

The example of Netflix shows the power of harnessing paying subscribers to create new, high-quality material. From television to movies, Netflix is changing how media is made.

AltSciFi has aspirations along similar lines, especially for perennial fan favorites like Ghost in the Shell that no Hollywood studio could treat in a faithful way.

2. Sell merchandise that people actually want.

This is self-explanatory. From punk rock shows to the Star Wars saga, giving people tangible goods is a necessary aspect of having a viable brand. In a world of ever-expanding bandwidth, information itself is becoming free whether we like it or not. Physical merchandise needn’t be fancy — it can be anything that serves as a symbol of what it means to be a part of AltSciFi.

3. Take a “public radio” approach.

The American radio network, National Public Radio (NPR), has mastered the art of fundraising. See also Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. Taking donations at regular intervals can create a collaborative sense of “racing to the top” and supporting a good cause.

A Commitment to Authentic Indie Science Fiction Across Media

One of our larger purposes is to do what science fiction is truly and perfectly designed for: to explore human social, economic, technological and political issues through speculative fiction in a variety of media.

The only way to do that is to first uphold and maintain a standard of basic ethics and quality at all times. That, in turn, depends on all of us, both collectively and as individuals, most crucially including you.

Real science fiction pushes boundaries; hence, it is not designed as a mainstream “popcorn” genre. Most Hollywood “sci-fi” movies are simply action films with nifty gadgets attached.

To maintain a commitment to authentic science fiction, then, AltSciFi is not using a typical”clickbait” model to sustain our existence. The three alternatives above will serve as our basic revenue model; they are ethical, transparent, and safeguard everyone’s right to personal identity and data privacy.

Will AltSciFi survive, succeed and thrive in a world of pervasive privacy violation, tawdry gender-baiting, abuse of social issues for monetary gain, and casual disregard for even the most easily-found facts? The only way to find out is to try. If you agree with our purpose, join us in our ongoing adventure to support real science fiction — to imagine and enjoy visions of futures heretofore untold.

Super Metroid’s Samus Aran is [Probably Not] a Secret Transgender Woman. Deal With It.

…or, how ad-click starvation leads to clickbait by writers desperate to stir false-yet-trendy gender controversy.

Writers Brianna Wu and Ellen McGrody recently penned a piece titled, “Metroid’s Samus Aran is a Transgender Woman. Deal With It.

The subject matter of the original article is utterly trivial, although its implications are not: witness an offhand remark made by joke-telling Japanese video game designer Matsuoka Hirofumi in a May 1994 interview for the Super Metroid Strategy Guide.

Secret of Samus that only I know: Samus isn’t a woman. As a matter of fact, she’s actually a shemale.

Why would one, much less two, feminist writers feel the need to tackle and extrapolate on designer Matsuoka Hirofumi’s transphobic comment made over twenty years ago?

What makes this worthy of an article that has become virally popular across the Internet in less than twenty-four hours?

The answer is both sad and simple: transgender people are an easy target for exploitation, both by so-called “allies” and by “enemies”. More controversy means more eyeballs drawn to the article, more links pointing to the article, and ultimately, more ad clicks that generate revenue for the site on which the article has been published.

Was She, or Wasn’t She…?

To settle the matter of whether Samus Aran was actually designed as transgender or not, one point is worth noting: the designer of the character was Yamane Tomoyoshi, not Matsuoka Hirofumi. Matsuoka, then, was not the one to create Samus Aran’s life story.

Matsuoka Hirofumi

Yamane “Tomomi” Tomoyoshi

When you read the interview itself, you can also see that the participants are constantly laughing and joking.

This leads to another point that’s not so humorous, however.

In the time period when Super Metroid was released, transgender people in Japan were considered a sideshow oddity. The person who created the term was herself the proprietor of a gay cabaret-style bar:

The term “New Half” is also of global provenance, according to sociologist Mark McLelland, author most recently of “Love, Sex and Democracy in Japan during the American Occupation.”

“It all goes back to the 1950s,” he says, tracing the rise of a gei ba (gay bar) entertainment culture to the early postwar era, and the coinage of the phrase to one such bar in Osaka, Betty’s Mayonnaise, in 1982.

Transgender proprietor Betty borrowed the loanword for mixed-race Japanese, “half,” and pronounced herself, “half man and half woman, therefore ‘New Half’.”

A first-hand account written in 2008 sums up the experiences of transgender women in Japan during the 1990s:

New Halves were very popular in Japan about 10 years ago, often appearing on the awful evening variety shows that take up most of Japanese tv time, and this bar was pretty famous around then, one of the girls we spoke to was on tv quite a lot back then.

She was quite bitter about the experience, as basically they were just on tv to be stared at and mocked – picking the new half out of a line up, etc. etc.

A further pointer to the sexual essence of Samus Aran is that the character was originally conceived as male, but was changed to female “to surprise the player”, as Metroid co-creator Sakamoto Yoshio is quoted as saying:

When we were almost done with the development of Metroid, one of our staffers casually suggested, ‘Why don’t we make Samus Aran a female character to surprise the player?’ Back then I thought it was a nice idea, but I couldn’t foresee what a huge impact this would have on the future of the franchise.

Was that “staffer” Matsuoka Hirofumi? Perhaps. Note that the character was sex-flipped to female, not gender-bent to become a transgender woman.

From Transphobic Joke to Transgender Superheroine?

Given the points above, then, it’s entirely likely that Matsuoka Hirofumi was making a crude-yet-commonplace joke about a character that he played no active part in designing. Samus Aran was not transgender, but rather a sex-flipped male character that was reassigned as female prior to the public release of Super Metroid. Matsuoka’s comment could also be interpreted as a backhanded compliment about Samus Aran as a strong female character — that to be so strong, she had to “be a man in disguise”.

Now, you might be thinking, “why on Earth would two feminist, apparently gay-friendly female (women) writers think that this was a worthwhile topic to discuss in such glowingly incorrect terms?”

Well, dear reader, that is the true purpose of this two-article series, so be sure to come back for the conclusion.

Update: Click here for Part Two (click here).

Science Fiction as a Journey of Gender and Sexual Identity: Conversation with Author K.M. Szpara

A conversation between K.M. Szpara, Sunny Morraine and others.

Published author K.M. Szpara offers a personal account of becoming a science fiction writer, and how doing so is inextricable from an ongoing journey of gender and sexual identity. Szpara’s thoughts spurred a larger conversation that is included below.

The text in this entry is adaped from “The Importance of Trans People In Narrative” by A. Merc Rustad and has been lightly edited for clarity.

K.M. Szpara is the author of “Nothing is Pixels Here”, published in June 2015 (Issue 61), Lightspeed Magazine.

In response to the article “Why We Need Trans Romance” by E.E. Ottoman, K.M. Szpara (@KMSzpara) writes:

I want to speak more to how important this is. I’m a gay transmale [female-to-male] SFF writer who is heavy on [writing] romance and erotica. For a long time growing up, I read m/m [male/male] romance where I could find it (mostly fanfic and Anne Rice book — thanks, Anne!).

I didn’t yet understand what that meant for me. I started writing m/m. I knew that was how I processed love, too. I remember discovering I didn’t have all the parts to make sex happen for me the way I wanted it — jarring but not the end.

I continued writing all male protagonists because that was the headspace I enjoyed.

Even more so from a first-person POV. I got to “be there” in my fiction, [but] still didn’t even realize people could transition [from one gender to another] because I had no idea what transgender was at that point. Once I did and decided to transition socially and medically, I was told by JHU doctors no gay men would want to sleep with me.

“Who would date you?”, was the question I got from everyone.

It’s hard to be 100% confident about medically transitioning because some of the changes are permanent and you’re told you will BE WEIRD… but I did it anyway. All this time I continued writing cis m/m characters because that’s how I saw myself.

That’s how I wish I’d been born.

I already have body issues so please, everyone else, emphasize my worries of never being loved or having sex with a caring person again [1].

This year I wrote my first transgender character. It was published and I had a ducking hard time doing that. I had to re-find myself as “sexy” and — **spoilers** there is no transgender sex in the story but **end spoilers** — BUT! I am finally ready to write one, an erotic cis/trans science fiction/fantasy story.

It has taken me years, and I’m still nervous no one will buy it for their m/m anthology.

“Do you accept transmen?” If ‘yes’, do they really?

The moral of this story is, I feel bad writing cis and/or wanting to be cis because I also want people to honor transgender bodies. If you want to help and are an editor/agent/respected writer, make it explicitly known that you accept and desire transgender bodies in the writing you seek.

Enable us.

Sunny Moraine (@dynamicsymmetry) responds:
Something pretty gross that happened a while back was a major M/M review site rejecting reviewing books that featured explicit sex scenes along those lines because of genitalia.

Got called the FUCK out but it was a major look at transphobia in the genre.

K.M. Szpara (@KMSzpara)
:( THIS SHIT. I keep considering querying in advance: do you accept transgender characters? But I probably shouldn’t. I should just bombard the fuck out of the market.

Now if I could just write faster… Lol

Sunny Moraine
Yeah, I feel like the best response to that is to write the hell out of it. So go you. :D

Benjanun Sriduangkaew (@benjanun_s)
Huge difference between stating that they seek that writing versus actually, well, publishing it though. :/

A. Merc Rustad (@Merc_Rustad)
Agreed, the follow-through on PUBLISHING is a big step that needs to happen.

no ordinary fishtrap (@afishtrap)
Really, multiple gateways need to get on the ball: agent, editor, distributors, bookstores, and customers.

The problem is that it ends up being a massive multi-gate disconnect, because readers want/need it, absolutely. The only way to overcome each gateway in turn is if stories exist. :)

K.M. Szpara
True. And if we self-reject first because we’re not “invited”, then we’ll never know. I think transgender people self-reject a LOT because others don’t even think to include us, and we know it.

A. Merc Rustad
I’m plotting a novel now, which has a transgender guy as the main character, and I want to add explicit sex scenes when he dates other guys, for that reason. I want it to be very positive, because I CRAVE positive portrayals and need to see them in fiction.

K.M. Szpara
YES YES YES PLS. Would read. The only thing I ever run into is what transgenderism looks like outside the modern medical and social system. You have to get creative; can’t just have a person with a flat chest, and vagina, and be like “they’re trans!” Because it’s also a social, internal and sometimes medical experience/personal history. Creative! Writing! SFF! Lol

A. Merc Rustad
We need ALL THE STORIES in ALL THE GENRES with many types of transgender experience and positivity about transgender people and bodies.

Further Reading:

Rustad, A. Merc. (2015, August 13). The Importance of Trans People In Narrative. [Web page]. Retrieved from https://storify.com/Merc_Rustad/the-importance-of-trans-people-in-narrative.

Queer Dictionary. [n.d.] Cisgender (adj.). [Web page]. Retrieved from http://queerdictionary.tumblr.com/post/9264228131/cisgender-adj.

Szpara, K.M. (2015, June). Nothing is Pixels Here [Short story]. Retrieved from http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/nothing-is-pixels-here/.

Ottoman, E.E. (2014, October 31). Why We Need Trans Romance. [Personal account]. Retrieved from http://www.queerromancemonth.com/ee-ottoman/.

A Story Waiting to Be Written: Tyga, Mia Isabella, Kylie Jenner and Private Information Warfare

Fascinating to see NSA-style information warfare tactics adopted by Twitter users yesterday… or perhaps the NSA was inspired by Twitter. In any case, the events had the flavor of a sci-fi espionage story, and could definitely become such a story with the proper coaxing.

You may have heard about a recent cyberattack against the U.S. government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM). With suspected origins in China, the unprecedented hack affects up to seven percent of the American population. Stolen data includes:

“…drug use, romantic histories and close friends abroad of those in the military, National Security Agency (NSA) and sensitive State Department posts, among many others, essentially a road map for what weaknesses might be used for blackmail by a foreign power.”

The NSA isn’t the only one with skin in this spy game. It’s a well-known infowar tactic to ruin radical Muslim clerics’ reputations by exposing their online porn browsing habits to faithful congregations. Extremist Islam doesn’t take kindly to pornography, it seems.

Enter the Tyga

Likewise, despite recent flag-waving to the contrary, much of Twitter openly endorses homophobia while apparently excusing pedophilia, or at the very least, statutory rape.

Trending on Twitter yesterday was an entertainer’s stage name: “Tyga”. Tyga, age 25, is a rapper by the name of Michael Ray Nguyen-Stevenson. He became hashtag fodder for allegedly cheating on his 17-year-old girlfriend Kylie Jenner (@KylieJenner) with transgender pornstar Mia Isabella (@THEMiaIsabella).

Note that Mia Isabella also has an Instagram account:

All of this is publicly available and accessible data about well-known individuals. None of this data is private.

Here’s where the interesting part begins.

On Twitter, thousands of tweets poured in every hour about the discovery that Tyga had maintained a secret three-year relationship with Mia Isabella. The mainstream entertainment media ran wild with the story as well, repeating the same facts. It all relied on the publication of intimate cellphone photos displaying Tyga’s tattooed nether regions. The photos were mixed in with screenshots of texts between a phone number that may have been his, and a phone number that appeared to belong to Mia Isabella.

Twitter users raged and ridiculed, cackled and heckled, predicting the demise of both Tyga the rapper and Michael Ray Nguyen-Stevenson the human being. As is sadistically commonplace on the Internet, calls came forward, then were retweeted and reposted, requesting none too politely for him to disappear and/or commit suicide.

No big deal, right? Rappers exist as hypermasculine caricatures, anyway, right? If you call a rapper a “faggot” — much less provide evidence — his career as a lyric-slinging tough guy is as good as finished.

That seems to have been exactly the intention of whoever was behind the scandal. The question of where the nude pictures and sexy texts came from is made almost irrelevant by the human element at play.

Two minutes of searching the Internet revealed that Mia Isabella’s alleged Instagram account was not, in fact, owned by Mia Isabella at all. The trick was that the fake account took the username “therealmiaisabella”. Do you remember what the actual account was named? Probably not (hint: look above to refresh your memory). It would be easy to believe that the word “real” was, well, real.

Meanwhile, Ms. Isabella’s actual, easily-found Twitter and Instagram accounts make absolutely no mention of Tyga whatsoever.

This means that someone:

– “borrowed” Mia Isabella’s identity and a few photos of her;
– most likely hacked Tyga’s phone to obtain the nude images of him;
– created a fake Instagram account to closely mimic Ms. Isabella.

The aspect of this that falls into the category of “information warfare” is the exploitation of Twitter users’ gullibility and homophobia. Less than one in every hundred tweets on the topic contained mention of the fact that Mia Isabella wasn’t the owner of the faked Instagram account. In their haste to digitally crucify Tyga, practically no one bothered to check.

Even more cunning is the timing involved: Tyga just released an album that sold quite poorly, damaging his reputation. The fake Mia Isabella therefore timed her attack for maximum damage to an already-tarnished public image. Fake Mia even upped the ante by claiming to have video of her having “gay” sex with Tyga. The video, warned Fake Mia, would be posted at 12am unless Tyga paid her a suitable fee for services rendered. An explicit photo offered as proof was quickly debunked as belonging to a completely different person who bore no resemblance to Tyga aside from skin tone. Still, the Twitter Hate Parade continued unabated as frenzied users counted the minutes until midnight.

Predictably, no incriminating video ever turned up on Fake Mia’s Instagram.

A day later, people are still dragging Tyga’s name through the trashbin of Twitter. The Tyga-trashing tweets, at last count, were being written at a rate of 38 per minute.

Who’s blackmailing Tyga? That is still unknown, although he has sought legal representation and the help of the FBI. More importantly, this story is worthy of a science fiction plot due to how Twitter’s users were unwittingly recruited to destroy Tyga’s reputation. Relatively little work was required on the part of the attacker. Every Twitter user who posted bullying and homophobic tweets is complicit in the defamation and blackmail of a celebrity. Not only that, they also implicitly condone sexual relationships with underaged children, in this case teenaged Kylie Jenner.

It’s a story where the only moral agent is the person who takes a moment to seek facts before jumping to judgment. In this case, the battleground was Twitter and the victim was a not-so-innocent rapper. In the near future, such diabolically methodical information warfare tactics could be just one hacked selfie or stolen text away from destroying the reputation of any private citizen.

That’s a science fiction story worth writing, hopefully before it comes true in real life.


P.S. In fact, I’ve already come up with a title: this story (or the set of social engineering tactics it circumscribes) could be called “Shadow Punch”.

Transgender, Transracial, Transhuman? The Near-Future Transformation of Personal Identity

A few years ago, I wrote the short story-turned-novella “Riding the Bullet”.
Riding the Bullet is the story of a young woman’s trans-Pacific bullet train
abventure to New York City in a postapocalyptic near-future.

Of particular interest is a humorously-depicted feature of her fashion and style that seems to have predicted a debacle raging over social media in the past day or so.

Excerpt below (glad to note great strides in fiction-writing skill since then):

“Yup, tonight I’m Blackinasian. You’re Whitetina? Rock. And Jens is what? Beige? Again? He was beige at the Black party last month. Well, you know what they say… reminds me, I’ve got to drink this crazy ganguro potion — stopped especially to get it at 109 in Shibuya. No, not that kind of potion. I want to get a little darker before the party.”

Digging into the bag, a plastic bottle screamed its electric blue letters against a black background. “U-Polish! Give it To Ur Skin!” shouted the bold, uppercase letters of nonsensical Japanese Engrish. A few shakes and a twist of the cap opened the bottle. Wincing at the slimy texture, a third of the oily, sludgy substance was downed in one shot. Artificial melanocytes began their journey of diffusion from digestive organs to the largest organ of the body, the skin, evenly darkening by temporarily and naturally increasing the amount of pigment across the body’s surface.

Excerpt from Riding the Bullet, original novella, 2012

A news story has exploded in certain corners of journalism and even bleeds into pop-culture commentary. The story has a hashtag, and that hashtag is a person’s name. Her name is Rachel Dolezal.

The Internet shame-and-scorn game has gone into overdrive, of course, as its attention- and stimulus-starved denizens tend to do constantly nowadays.

You can read more about the controversy here (click here).

At the core of the issue is a deceptively straightforward question: Can a person switch racial identification if they feel a deep, personality-level affinity for that racial identity?

Mythology Meets Science Fiction: Race in Present and Future

In the novella Riding the Bullet, the main character is an Asian woman who darkens her skin for the sake of fashion and personal style.

Rachel Dolezal seems to have taken on a completely new identity as a black American woman, even to the point of marrying a black man, adopting four black children, and disacknowledging her (Caucasian) parents (given the fact that her parents were the ones who so gracelessly “outed” her to the mass media, she may have had good reason for wanting to delete them from her life).

In that sense, Dolezal has become part of a black family — as the popular term now would have it, her “family of choice”.

Many reactions have questioned the possibility that she could change her racial identity.

Questions and objections include:

1. Rachel Dolezal is engaging in “blackface” and most be stopped by any means necessary, especially via Twitter-based ridicule!

Actually, Dolezal is a legitimate civil rights advocate who teaches courses on African-American culture and is the president of her local NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington. That is about as far as it gets from being a stereotype-wielding “blackface” performer or entertainer.

2. Rachel Dolezal is profiteering from affirmative action through a diabolically clever and fiendishly perverse reverse-race incentive scheme!

Affirmative action exists because of structural inequality in American culture. By definition, a white person would have an easier time building a career by claiming to be white — that’s the whole reason why affirmative action exists. The logic of a white woman taking financial advantage of “passing as black” is inherently self-contradictory.

3. Rachel Dolezal is “crazy”.

If someone cannot fathom an idea, they will often try to discredit the person instead of the idea. For LGBT people, this meant decades of psychiatric torture, chemical castration and psychologically disastrous “conversion” therapy practiced by religious fundamentalists. Now we have the same defamatory reaction leveled against Rachel Dolezal. “She is different. I don’t understand and don’t care. Hence, she is ‘crazy’ and somehow therefore eligible for ostracism, shaming and bullying.”

Rachel Dolezal may have other psychological problems. That is not the issue here, nor does it diminish the questions that her case raises regarding race and identity.

4. Black people can’t “transition” to become white, so it’s not fair (and therefore not possible) for a white woman to change her racial identity, either!

In fact, many black people (including biracial people) do not have dark skin and may be as light-skinned as Rachel Dolezal. This may be true even before tanning or other skin-darkening treatments as Dolezal seems to have undergone. Also, many peoples of the world have “black” skin: Thai, East Indian, and Aboriginal Australian among them. Therefore, skin tone or stereotypically “African” features do not determine race in any way.

How can this be true, if so many people believe otherwise?

In the tradition of hard sci-fi (science fiction based on plausible science), we can look at what scientists have to say on the topic.

What they say is conclusive: The notion of race is itself has never been scientifically validated. There is only one “human race”, and scientifically we humans all belong to a single species named “homo sapiens sapiens”.

Race, like, gender, is a not a biological attribute. Gender is behavior, not biology — and perhaps the same is true of racial identification.

Japanese Identity: Bicultural, Biracial

As noted above, many peoples of the world are black, even though they are not directly of African descent.

In the sci-fi novella “Riding the Bullet”, our protagonist chats with her friend about playing with race and ethnicity due to advances in pop-culture norms and technology-driven capabilities.

The idea drew real-life inspiration from a phenomenon in Japan known as kuro gyaru (“black girl”) style, in which teenage and mid-twenties girls deeply tan and darken their skin for the sake of beauty and style.

There is also a less extreme trend in Japanese hip hop culture whereby young women practice “B-style”, or “Black style”. The goal there is to imitate black American female hip-hop artists and music video girls.

Miss Universe Japan, Ariana Miyamoto.

Are these girls trying to become black? No. They are still Japanese. The deeper point is that, for example, a biracial person like Miss Universe Japan, Ariana Miyamoto, looks similar to the “gyaru” and is as black as two-term American president Barack Obama. Although she is very much Japanese, Miyamoto has faced a wave of racist sentiment from other Japanese people because a person who looks like her “just can’t be” from Japan. This makes the question far more ambiguous than it might seem at face value, both literally and figuratively.

The Relationship of Race and Gender

Meanwhile, another non-traditional identity is that of the transgender person. Many people have recently begun to accept that a person can experience what is clinically called “gender dysphoria” — a sense of having been born the wrong gender. This dysphoria, for some, leads to a desire to change physical attributes in ways that align more closely with the person’s self-perception. Examples of “passable” transgender people include couture model Andreja Pejić, actress Laverne Cox, and performer Carmen Carrera.

If gender can be changed, why not race?

Advances in surgery, endocrine/hormone treatments, and behavior change make it possible to completely transform a person’s appearance to match their self-image. As time passes, these procedures are becoming more and more refined. Within a generation, the question of gender may soon be more a matter of how far you can afford to take the process of body modification in order to attain a desired appearance. Society has also begun to accept that although a person may be genetically male or female, their (cultural) gender identification may legitimately differ.

If there is such thing as “gender dysphoria”, why not “racial dysphoria” as well?

Rachel Dolezal lied about her race, but she also seems to geniunely want to exemplify an ideal of activism and scholarship. If she had been accepted for what she feels herself to be, perhaps the lies would have been unnecessary. This is exactly the same as the plight faced by transgender people every day of their lives; the parallel is direct and unmistakable.

Not So Black-and-White After All: Welcome to the (Trans)Human Race

Feminism is often thought of in terms of “women versus men”, when that is not the case. Is race a simplistic binary distinction of “black versus white”, or are there more degrees of freedom in self-image and the viable construction of social persona?

In the near future, people may realize that race, like gender, is a social construction, not a biological certainty determined by birth or genetics. Just as gender dysphoria does not mean that a person is “crazy”, racial diversity may become recognized as having an intrapsychic dimension as well as a social one.

We don’t need to reach for far-out futures like the one depicted in “Riding the Bullet”. We don’t need to classify diversity as some kind of science fiction (or worse, derisively refer to human beings as “science experiments” by way of dimwittedly degrading both a person’s humanity and science itself).

One day soon, we may witness the acceptance of individuals who are free to live their lives as they see fit and express their personal identity as they imagine themselves to be. Maybe science fiction can help point us toward that eventuality a bit sooner, or at least give us a playfully serious occasion to consider alternative possibilities.